I’ll be the first to admit: I’m not quite the wayfaring adventurer I’d like to be. Before 2016, I had barely left my home state. California is ecologically diverse, so why spend the time and money on world-traveling when the mountains and the ocean are just a quick drive away?
At the core of that incredibly naive statement is an idea that viewing a new landscape is the only reason to travel. However, as I began taking advantage of any opportunity to venture out of my homeland, I realized how wrong these assumptions were.
Now I’ve been living in Italy the past three months, I see that culture is inexpressibly more than the scenery. I’m thankful I left my home behind for a season. I’m thankful I’ve had the privilege of experiencing a new culture—not just a new terrain.
What is Culture?
Without diversity in cultural experience, the word “culture” may spur ideas of distinct dialects, exotic foods, or beautiful clothing. These images aren’t entirely wrong; each of these plays a part in the distinction of individual cultures. But they are only outward expressions of a deeper motivation and don’t truly capture the essence of a culture.
More than the language, cuisine, dress, or location, I found that experiencing a culture is about the people themselves. What do these people value? How do they interact with the world around them? Why do they do what they do? The answers to these questions are the heart of a culture.
And I’m not the only one who thinks so.
For the sake of a robust article supported by diverse perspectives, I recently asked some traveled friends to share their experiences with other cultures. Specifically, I asked them to share something that surprised them about other cultures and a valuable lesson they learned from their travels.
Their stories were inspiring! My friends didn’t refer to how people looked or the foods they ate on their travels. Instead, they spoke of how kind and hospitable the locals were, how important it is to slow down and appreciate your community, and how there is joy to be found even when possessions are few.
Each response did reflect the diversity of the places my friends have been, but the underlying theme was apparent. Experiencing a new culture has little to do with physical appearances or worldly possessions. Everything comes back to one thing: the people themselves.
Breaking the Bubble
I think it’s human nature for us to gravitate toward others similar to ourselves. We like feeling understood, so we surround ourselves with people who relate to our experiences. This is great in moderation… but if you’re not careful, you may create a life experience filled only with people who see the world in the same way you do.
This is how you get stuck in a restrictive bubble.
Even in California, surrounded by practically all imaginable terrains, I was beginning to feel that stuck-ness. But I didn’t recognize it for what it was: a longing for diversity. I needed a fresh perspective on life. I needed to break the bubble that was forming around me. This motivated me to finally leave America to explore someplace new.
Experiencing a culture outside of your own is like adding pops of color to a formally monochromatic world.
You see that people do things differently than you do—and that’s okay! In fact, it’s more than just okay. You may find that you prefer certain aspects of other cultures over your own.
Take a typical day here in Italy. From about 1 pm to 3 pm, it is nearly impossible to find an open store. And Sundays? Everything is closed (not just Chick-fil-A). This way of living is directly reflective of Italian values; family time, home-cooked meals, and rest take priority over potential profit. I have loved this daily opportunity to slow down and breathe, and will do everything in my power to practice this when I return home!
No matter where we’re from, we’re still human
While culture may alter the appearance of life, human existence is about so much more than how we look, what we study, or the stuff we own. Life is about connection, passion, purpose, and love. It’s about the deep-rooted concerns of our souls. No matter where you’re from, these are the things that make life worth living.
Exploring the diversity of other cultures brought me to ask these important questions, and will likely you to do the same: what do you value? How do you interact with the world around you? Why do you do what you do?
You could answer those questions without broadening your perspective. You could live your entire life in your bubble, confident that your answers are the best that can be given. Many people do. But without exploring the driving forces of a culture outside of your own, you’re missing out on an incredible potential for growth.
Burst out of your restrictive bubble now, while you’re young! Meet new people, expand your perspective, and learn a lesson or two.
And don’t be surprised if, when you do, you don’t recognize the well-rounded person you become.